It's a movie-set outside the place, strangely still and quiet and arranged by a set designer. An unmarked door to an unmarked building surrounded by signs written in Chinese on a short and stubby crooked road in Chinatown will get you into a place called Apotheke. (You know how to Google; look it up.)
It’s very dark and bass-y. It’s Motown Monday so I feel like I’m a bit in the seventies, but even without soul being emitted from the speakers, the design seems a bit of a flashback. It’s simple and glamorous all at the same time. Comfortable—albeit scarce—furniture, deco lighting, and a bit over-repeated chemistry elements everywhere. Running the length of the far wall, the bar is clearly the headliner (as it should be).
And this part I’m sure you’ve heard.
There are no bartenders, only mixologists. And they are dressed in long, white lab coats, intently mixing their self-created pleasures for the visitors. Bottles full of all colors and textures surround each of them. Things like eyedroppers and beakers are mixed in with their Boston shakers and Hawthorn strainers. And I see them doing something beautiful that I seldom see behind a bar these days: concentrate. Everything is measured and exacted; things are slowed down here. If a drink takes a while to make, you wait. And despite being New Yorkers, the crowd unusually doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, people lean in at the bar, absent of any stools, and talk to each other while watching the scientists at work. “All cities in Connecticut are shit holes,” I hear the guy next to me telling his group of LES friends as I read a few of the bottles on the top shelf of the back bar that are mixed in with infusions and ostrich eggs. “TINCT. FOENICUL”, “MEL BORAXAT.”, and “AETHER ACETIC”. Yeah, a bit tacky. But they seem to like it.
Nick is a mixologist that has been here since the opening. He’s the tall, friendly one. He seems eager to tickle the palate of curious bar-goers. “What flavors do you like?” he asks me. “Which spirit?” He methodically puts together a Cilantro Paso, one of his creations on the menu. It’s a combination of cilantro infused gin, Lillet Blanc, agave nectar, lemon, and muddled cucumber, served chilled in a martini glass with one ice cube. Many of the chilled cocktails, I notice, are served with one ice cube. It’s a great drink, but he doesn’t stop there.
His next one is not on the menu and doesn’t have a name. It’s nicely mezcal based, made with lavender, a habanero infused cachaça and vodka mixture, smoke, and citrus. Very tasty, indeed.
Yuval is a visiting mixologist from Los Angeles. The label on his lab coat says Dispensing Chemist and he seriously looks like a bearded lab worker, intensely pothering over his infused brews. He gives me a mixture of vodka, elderflower, jasmine, lime, and orange zest that is completely sublime. He also shares with me a specialty of his, Gin and Tonic from the Garden, which is a GnT with fresh pieces of tomato, cucumber, and basil and kissed with salt.
If these guys are chemists, then the uncle mad scientist is definitely Albert Trummer, who owns the place. He’s a mixologist as well, but isn't often seen mixing up a drink these days. Fortunately for me, I get to try a taste of his incredible signature version of a bourbon sour that is shockingly smooth and soft on the palate.
So, quite unexpectedly in fact, I ended up at Apotheke tonight, where care is made and dispensed in a glass, and I find myself tasting tinctures from some talented mixers. I know, I know. But somebody’s got to do it.
Sip it. Slowly.
Thanks for reading. I'll try to have some pictures for you next time.